Free Idea — Library Box Book Catalog

Unlocked and unattended boxes for people to drop off and take books as a means of free-cycling existed before the internet came along just fine. But like many things, the internet has impacted it dramatically. With this free idea, I intend to argue that a global inventory system is a major blind spot in the tools currently available for book exchange boxes. Importantly, implementing and running a site to do this would offer a relatively high level of value relative to the effort needed to develop it in a modern web framework and to keep the service live then-on.

Unreliable Data as Critical Intellectual Shift

Running an inventory on a book-exchange box would be a relatively simple task. So would the act of taking a picture and entering a new one into the database (more on that detail later). The obvious problem is that a website could not hope to reliably indicate whether a book was there or not. Instead, the best you could hope for would be to say “book last seen on xx-xx-xxxx in this box”. Asking users to register their checkouts (or outright “takes”) may be perfectly reasonable for some hosts of the boxes. For someone taking on this project, that may be the exact thing they start out doing as a pilot in their front lawn. However, the global system already has a clear set of rules in place, which expressly allows any member of the public to take any book with no administrative burden.

Existing Tools

The Little Free Library is a project that already maintains information on the book exchange boxes themselves. However, this information is not comprehensive (and very restrictive by design). It is a program, and only the owners of the boxes can enter the program. This fundamentally limits penetration a meaningful extent. For example, a park might have a children’s book exchange box, but in order to register it on the LFL site, the park committee might have to vote to approve the registration. Then, likely $50-$100 would need to be either donated by a highly motivated community member or come out of the park’s budget just to buy the sign.

Concept

A simple relational system between books and book boxes.

  • Look at last-known inventory of books in a box
  • See an extended list of books (specific to a single box) that can be requested to be filled by another user
  • Enter info about an untracked book box
  • List your own books, and book boxes you would be willing to drop books off at

Obligatory analytical writing, online participation account for Medium. Engineering, software, books, space, constant daydreaming.

Obligatory analytical writing, online participation account for Medium. Engineering, software, books, space, constant daydreaming.